Calling your homeowner’s insurance company may not be the first thing you plan to do after a fire, flood, theft, or other home accident; however, it is important to do this as quickly as possible both for security reasons and to initiate the complaints procedure.
FILE A POLICE REPORT OF NECESSARY.
For crimes such as theft or vandalism, file a police report before calling. Be sure to write down the names of the police officers you speak to or come to inspect your property.
NOTIFY HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE COMPANY.
Your next call should be to your homeowner’s insurance company or insurance agent. Your mortgage lender can help you with this information.
Insurance companies usually required that the homeowners notify the company of any theft, injury or damage that could result as an insurance claim. You do not need to call immediately, however, it is better you call as soon as possible. The insurance company is the only one that can help you in the recovery process.
Reporting requirements may vary depending on your insurance company and circumstances, but your policy and supporting documentation will tell you what to do. Some companies also allow you to file a complaint online.
MAKE EMERGENCY REPAIRS.
If absolutely necessary, make any common sense and reasonable emergency repairs that will prevent further damage without endangering you or your family. Most major homeowners’ insurance companies and policies welcome this – in fact, some require it.
Document all damages, theft of stolen items and anything else that is pertinent in your insurance claim. Make sure to take a lot of photographs and videos that details the theft or damage. Be as thorough as possible. This is very important for repairs or home improvement than needs to happen immediately to make the structure safe and habitable.
Make a list of damaged, stolen or destroyed items along with their approximate value. It will be much faster if you have done a detailed inventory of your home beforehand.
The insurance company will create/set up an appointment with you and the appraiser who will assess the theft/damage and interview you to determine the amount of compensation you should expect. Be sure to accompany the evaluator during the inspection and report any structural damage or problem areas.
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FILING A POLICE REPORT
Roof loss or wind damage, for example, is usually not a good reason to call the police. But if it’s about criminal acts like vandalism or burglary, or if there’s a fire, you need to get the authorities involved as soon as possible. The same is true if someone is injured on your property. Give the authorities all relevant details about the event and keep copies of their reports.
You will need it when submitting a request. Do not call the Fire Department or an Ambulance unless the house is on fire, you suspect there is an absolute need for a medic, you suspect there is a burglar in your house, or there is another real emergency.
Most police departments prefer to place non-emergency calls on their dedicated non-emergency line. Detection of vandalism or subsequent theft is generally not considered an emergency. Some communities allow or even encourage citizens to report criminal activity online and file a police complaint.
After you provide information about your location, the accident or incident; your case is then assigned a case number and you can track the report with. Make sure to print a copy for your records.
An official will follow up with you if necessary. If a police officer visits your home, provide as much detail as possible about the incident, including an explanation of any damage to your home and any damaged or missing property. Answer all the officer’s questions and carefully inspect the area to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
NOTIFYING YOUR HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE COMPANY
Most homeowners’ insurance policies require you to notify the insurance company promptly of a storm, theft, fire, personal injury, or any other incident that could result in a claim, whether you intend to seek compensation or less. Your policy will tell you what is required and where to start.
In addition to calling your insurance company or insurance agent directly, some insurers allow you to contact them online or through an app. Unless you’re filing a minor complaint, it’s probably best to speak directly with an agent or company representative.
Read your policy before calling that way you get an idea of what is and is not covered, what exclusions and limitations are included, and what additional coverage you may have that you may have forgotten about. If it’s been a while since you bought your policy, now is the time to freshen up. Make a list of questions as you explore the policy.
If the damage or stolen property is more than the deductible than you may not want to file a claim. You may want to pay out of your own pocket and not risk a potential rate hike. “If the loss is within the deductible, or even if it is close, I would think twice before filing a claim,” says Jay Feynman, an insurance expert and professor of law at Rutgers University.
It is not always possible to find out how much repairs will cost without having a professional providing an estimate. It is best to call your insurance company. Your agent or insurance company representative can help you estimate costs, or you can consult with a local building contractor.
Just be sure to report and submit your application within the time frame specified in your policy. When you’re ready to report the damage to your insurer, prepare a copy of the policy and a list of questions. Describe the damage and confirm whether you are insured or not. Feel free to ask questions and try to get a clear idea of what awaits you.
Ask how long it will take to get the necessary paperwork for the complaint and how much time you must complete it. Find out if you will need to receive quotes for major repairs to include them in your claim, and when an insurance agent will come to check the damage. The more accurate you are now, the better you will be later.
Remember that you don’t need full leak details or a detailed inventory for the first call, but timeliness is key. If you are calling because of something like a storm that has caused significant damage in your area, we recommend that you get in line with an insurance specialist and have it repaired as soon as possible. Describe the damage as best you can, ask if you are insured and what details you need. Find out how much time you must file a complaint and start preparing accordingly.
DOCUMENTING YOUR HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE CLAIM
Applying for home insurance can be time consuming and tedious and requires a lot of attention to detail. But the more precise you are, the more likely you are to make a deal.
Track every phone call and conversation you have along the way, starting with the event that triggered the complaint. This log should include the date of the conversations and the names of the people you are talking to, from police officers to insurance company representatives and contractors providing estimates.
Take photos or video of the damage, including as many details as possible and moving from room to room if necessary. Now is a good time to pull out your home inventory, if you have any, with photos of the items before they were damaged, as well as their estimated value. Provide this information to your insurer, along with photos or video describing the damage, to make it easier to determine what was lost. If you do not have a visual record from before the accident, we still recommend that you create a record showing the damage along with a detailed list of damaged or stolen items. If the report is the result of a break-in, vandalism, or other criminal activity, be sure to include a copy of the police report along with the names of the officers you spoke to.
If someone is injured on your property, be prepared to provide details and bills for medical or other out-of-pocket expenses. Be sure to include details of anything specifically required by your insurance company and provide any additional backup documentation or required receipts. The more details you provide, the better you will be in the end. Finally, if your home is damaged to the point of becoming uninhabitable or unsafe, be sure to keep all hotel receipts, meals, and related expenses so you can be reimbursed.
Most homeowner insurance policies include coverage for these costs in the event of loss of use.
MAKE EMERGENCY REPAIRS
Don’t wait for an insurance agent to make urgent repairs to your home if delay results in additional damage. While you should not attempt repairs that are beyond your ability or could result in physical damage, feel free to cover a damaged roof with a plastic tarp, for example, to keep out rain. Such temporary measures will protect your home and make it more habitable until the arrival of specialists, and such measures may be required by your insurance company. “Politicians usually require the insured to make repairs to prevent further damage,” Feynman says. “It’s in your best interest and theirs.”
Keep copies of receipts for all materials purchased for emergency repairs, such as tarps, wood, and hardware. Include receipts for documents you sent to the insurance company when you filed a claim. Take a photo or video of the damage before starting repairs to capture the appearance of the damaged area immediately after the accident.
We recommend that you send those with a complaint. Remember that you should not report all damages, and you risk a higher rate by bringing in an insurance company. This is especially true if the damage seems minor and you can repair it yourself or hire a contractor for less or close to your deductible.
WHEN SHOULD I FILE A HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE CLAIM?
If you plan to apply for homeowners’ insurance, you should apply as soon as possible. This usually happens after the insurance appraiser has inspected the property and filed a report if necessary, and you are ready to call in contractors and begin repairs or restoration. Most policies require applications to be filed within one year of an incident, but rules vary by state. First, you need to determine if you want to file a complaint.
If repairing the damage costs less than or close to the deductible, you can either do the repair yourself or pay a contractor out of pocket. This may be true even if the cost of repairs is slightly higher than the deductible. The reason is that filing a claim can result in an increase in the rate or even cancellation of the policy. In addition, this entry may also follow you if you transfer to a different homeowners insurance company.
Insurance companies share a database of past claims, including names, ages and addresses of claimants, claim types, and dollar amounts paid on settlement. Called the Comprehensive Claims Exchange or CLUE, insurers regularly contribute to the database and use it to set rates. Whenever you file a complaint, CLUE will know about it.
Simply calling your insurer to inquire about a claim may result in your CLUE profile being updated and data may be retained for up to seven years. As a rule, a call to your insurance company or even a large claim may not result in a higher rate. There are many other factors that affect setting or raising rates, from your credit status to how long you stay with the same insurance company and the number of claims in your area. But if you have a history of repeated claims, you might want to think twice before adding minor damage to the list.
THE PROS AND CONS OF FILING A HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE CLAIM
Filing an insurance claim ensures that home improvement, repair or replacement work is done promptly and professionally.
Pros: Repairs will get done, damaged items will get replaced and work done helps maintain or increase home value
Cons: Insurance rate may increase, will have to wait a long for an insurance adjuster
Getting work done after filing a homeowners insurance claim can result in less maintenance and repairs by replacing old items. However, filing a claim may result in an increase in the rate that will stay with you even if you change insurance companies or move to a new home in the future.
Insurance companies maintain a common database containing claims history with detailed information including name, age, location, date and location of any previous claims, and particulars of claim type and settlement amount.
Filing a claim also means you must wait for an insurance appraiser to assess the damage and find a contractor who can do the repair for the amount the insurance company is willing to pay. Depending on the nature of the complaint, this may mean a long wait. After a hurricane, fire, tornado, or other event that affects a significant number of homes, contractors are usually in short supply. The longer you wait to get in line, the longer the repairs may take.
At the same time, skipping the complaint process saves you time and gives you more freedom to choose which repairs and how many are done on your schedule. It also avoids the possibility of a long-term dispute with your insurance company if you’re not happy with the deal you’re getting.
WILL FILING A HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE CLAIM IMPACT MY RATE?
There is no doubt that filing a claim with your homeowner’s insurance company can result in a higher rate that may stay with you for a while. This is especially true if you have a long history of complaints. You may also face the risk of being denied by your insurance company.
This is because insurance companies contribute and use a database of claims information called the Comprehensive Claims Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) to help them set and adjust rates. Each of your complaints is recorded and stored for years. A simple call to inquire about a complaint can raise a flag in the CLUE system and potentially flag you as a high-risk group. And this record will travel with you even if you decide to shop around for competing quotes from other home insurance companies. While knowing CLUE is helpful, it shouldn’t stop you from filing a complaint if necessary.
If your house is on fire, you will obviously need to call your insurance company. But if you park your car behind a fence and drop it, you might think twice. It’s important to weigh the damage against potential downsides without worrying too much about rate hikes or losses for the insurer.
“The insurance company wants to keep you as a customer,” Feynman says. “It’s very expensive to get a client.”
This invites homeowners to think about the big picture and ask questions for perspective. “Do you have a lot of complaints? Dear complaints, that’s what they’ll worry about,” he says.
HOW ARE HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE CLAIMS PAID?
Insurance companies usually pay claims through money orders or electronic checks, although more complex claims can result in multiple payments being made over time as repairs are completed and costs accumulate. Depending on the severity of the damage, you may receive your first payment immediately after filing a claim. This should help with immediate expenses or reimburse you for room and board as needed, as well as pay for any needed immediate repairs.
In some cases, such as minor claims, the first review may be the immediate settlement of the entire claim. If you accept this payment, you have the option to file another claim later if more damage is found. You can also challenge the agreement if you think it’s not enough and consider hiring a public insurance specialist for a second opinion if your insurance company’s offer doesn’t suit you. If both the facility and your assets are damaged or destroyed, you may receive separate payments for each. You may also receive a separate allowance for alternative living or living expenses and other allowance if part of the damage was caused by flooding and is covered by a separate policy.
If you have a home mortgage, checks are usually written to both you and your lender. Banks and mortgage companies usually require them to be listed on the homeowner’s policy and contribute to any insurance payments. The same is true if you own a condominium or co-op.
Your lender may require that all repair funds be held in escrow and released directly to your contractor as work progresses. Verification of work may be required before final payment.
MISTAKES TO AVOID WHEN FILING A HOMEOWNERS CLAIM
When filing a claim, promptly notify your insurance company of the event that triggered the claim. Then complete and submit the claim forms within the time allowed by your insurance company. Accurately document the loss with photographs, video, and a list of lost or damaged items with dollar amounts where applicable.
Make sure you follow your insurance company’s rules and the state’s time limits for filing a claim. On the contrary, do not file a complaint unless it is necessary. For minor damage or repairs that will cost less than the deductible, it’s best not to file a claim. Filing a claim can raise your home insurance rates or even cause your insurance company to fail.
Pay attention to the details because you will not be reimbursed for anything that is not listed on your application. The larger the claim, the more important this part of the process becomes. A hurricane that toppled a tree against a fence is an easy loss to document and report, while a house fire is considerably more difficult.
This is where it is so important to take pictures or video of the contents of your home in advance, as well as to keep a continuous inventory of your possessions. “People underestimate how much stuff they have,” Feynman says.
This brings us to one of the biggest mistakes people make when buying homeowner’s insurance: not enough coverage. “People make the mistake of buying just because of the price,” says Janet Ruiz of the Insurance Information Institute. He adds that homeowners should think about how much restoration will cost.
Include all important information about your home when applying, such as the quality of the materials. Is the floor carpet or parquet? Do you have a granite or laminate countertop or a work of art?”
“Make sure you update your coverage when you make changes.” Finally, don’t always assume that your insurer is right and settle for whatever they offer. Don’t be afraid to challenge the claim and fight for as much refund as possible. Your insurance company may not be ready to accept you, but they don’t want to overpay.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO FILE A HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE CLAIM?
A homeowner’s insurance claim can take anywhere from a few weeks to several years to resolve. The duration depends on the type and complexity of your request, the amount of damage caused and how thorough you are in your application. “A simple complaint will be resolved in a relatively short time,” Feynman says.
“If the house is on fire, it will take more time to collect information about the damage and more time for the insurance company to process the claim.” According to consumer advocacy group United Policyholders, it can take 18 to 24 months for a home to recover from a total loss. While some factors are out of your control, there are things you can do to speed up the process.
It is imperative that you provide as much detail as possible in your request, from police and fire reports, if applicable, to photographs or videos of damage, as well as an inventory and estimated value of lost items. Make sure you submit all documents within the time allowed by your insurance policy and state.
Any type of dispute can lengthen the process, such as a disagreement over the amount of a transaction or who should pay for a claim if more than one insurance company is involved. For example, if a hurricane caused both flooding and wind damage, recovering liability can be difficult. Wind damage is usually covered by the homeowner’s insurance policy, but flood insurance requires a separate policy. “After a hurricane, it can be terribly difficult to tell if the damage is caused by wind or water,” Feynman says.
Delays may also occur if a major hurricane cannot enter your area for an extended period or if supplies are difficult to find. Contractors may also take longer than promised to complete work or produce low-quality work that needs to be redone.
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